The Life of Riley TV show was a 30 minute comedy series on NBC about a blue collar guy who worked in an aircraft plant as a wing riviter. The series mostly showcased his activities at home with family and friends. The typical storyline involved Riley having some minor problem and then taking some action to correct it that ended out making matters much, much worse.
Life of Riley Cast
Jackie Gleason .... Chester A. Riley
Rosemary DeCamp .... Peg Riley
Lanny Rees .... Junior Riley
Gloria Winters .... Babs Riley
Sid Tomack .... Jim Gillis
Maxine Semon .... Honeybee Gillis
John Brown .... Digby "Digger" O'Dell
Bill Green .... Carl Stephenson
Bob Jellison .... Waldo Binny
George McDonald .... Egbert Gillis
Life of Riley Trivia
The Life of Riley began as an idea for a radio program to be titled, "The Flotsam Family" that would have starred "Groucho Marx ("You Bet Your Life"). The sponsor turned the show down, however, as they felt that Groucho playing the father of a family would not be accepted by the viewing audience. The creator/producer of The Life of Riley, "Irving Brecher" saw a movie titled, "The McGuerins from Brooklyn" and was impressed with the performance of "William Bendix". The radio program's format was reworked a bit and Bendix was cast as Chester A. Riley on the "Life of Riley Radio Show" which aired for 7 1/2 years and approximately 320 episodes! When the decision was made to take the series to television, Bendix was the obvious choice to play Riley there too, but he had movie contracts that simply wouldn't allow him to do it so the relatively unknown Jackie Gleason was given the role. Bendix did star in the Life of Riley movie that premiered in 1949 though. After 26 episodes, this series left the air due to low ratings and the fact that Jackie Gleason would not sign for another season. He felt that his talents could be better utilized in some other role. That turned out to be a great move with Gleason moving on to huge success as the star of two separate series, both titled, "The Jackie Gleason Show" and the classic comedy series, "The Honeymooners". William Bendix would also benefit when, in 1953 he returned in the role of Chester A. Riley on a new "Life of Riley TV Show" that would last 6 seasons and 217 episodes!
The creator/producer of The Life of Riley, "Irving Brecher" also created another popular TV show called, "The People's Choice".
The Life of Riley was Jackie Gleason's first TV show! Most people know of Jackie's fame from his TV shows but what few people realize about Jackie is that he was also a successful producer, director, musical performer, composer, writer, and recording artist! Jackie Gleason fans who haven't seen this series might be surprised by his much slimmer physique than that seen on his later television appearances.
The Life of Riley was the very first sitcom to ever win an Emmy Award! The other two nominees that it beat were, "The Silver Theater" and "The Lone Ranger".
This version of The Life of Riley was not filmed in front of a studio audience. Some of the episodes didn't even contain any laugh tracks!
Whenever Chester A. Riley would find himself in a serious mess, he'd utter what became the "catchphrase" of the show when he said, "What a revoltin' development this is!"
If you never saw this version of The Life of Riley, you might remember Rosemary DeCamp as "Margaret MacDonald" on the series, "Love That Bob", as "Aunt Helen" on "Petticoat Junction", or as "Helen Marie" on "That Girl".
John Brown who played, "'Digger' O'Dell" on this series, on the radio show, and in the movie was fired from his role as "Harry Morton" on the series, "The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show" after being blacklisted as a communist by the infamous McCarthy Senate Hearings. There were rumors that he also would have played Digger on the 1952 Life of Riley series if not for being blacklisted. By the way, John not only played "Digger" on this series. He also played an insurance agent on the very first episode. In the undertaker role, Brown coined a second "catchphrase" for the series by repeatedly saying, "I must be shoveling off". Undertaker ... Shoveling off ... get it?
Gloria Winters had a starring role on another series when she played "Penny King" on the series, "Sky King".
This series was recorded on film, unlike most of the shows done into the 1950s. Most series filmed off of the studio monitor and are referred to as "kinescope" recordings. Most of those shows that remain today have faded and "grainy" video and the sound appears to be coming from off in the distance.
Many critics stated that Jackie Gleason played a poor "Chester A. Riley" in comparison with the performance of William Bendix. Actually, Gleason probably would have agreed with that assessment. He left the series to find a role better suited for his talent. To be fair, it's unlikely that any critic would say that William Bendix could have done anywhere near as good a job portraying "Ralph Cramden" on the Honeymooners or any of the myriad of role Gleason played on his skit/comedy series.
Episodes List With Original Air Dates
The First And Only Season
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000+
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